Notre Dame and Clemson didn’t expect to have an extra week to prepare for their rematch in the Atlantic Coast Conference title game.
But in a season of unexpected challenges and unique situations, they’ll take it.
The second-ranked Fighting Irish and No. 4 Tigers now have two weeks before their rematch in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship on Dec 19 in Charlotte, North Carolina.
The Fighting Irish (10-0) and Tigers (9-1) got an extra week off after the ACC decided not to have its championship combatants play rescheduled games due to COVID-19 postponements the week before the title showdown.
“It is definitely unique for sure,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said.
Especially given that the teams met in a drama-filled, 47-40 double overtime game won by the Irish on Nov. 7. The coronavirus played a role in that one, too. Tigers quarterback Trevor Lawrence watched from the sidelines after testing positive for the virus.
Lawrence has since returned, leading Clemson to victories over Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech to qualify for the Tigers’ sixth straight ACC championship game — the only Power Five program to do that since conference championship games became a thing in 1992.
Swinney expects to run practices this week similar to what he has done during other bye weeks in his 12 full seasons as coach. The Tigers will concentrate on themselves at practice until cracking open the plans for Notre Dame later in the week.
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly acknowledges the strange circumstances and will try and create a game-week environment during his team’s time off.
Kelly wants Notre Dame players in the weight room and on the practice field, working hard as if they were playing Saturday instead of in two weeks.
He’ll have a practice involving tackling on Saturday, so his players can flow into a typical Sunday of treatment and recovery with another game ahead.
“We want to get back into a disciplined environment relative to our preparation in practice and we want to maintain our routine as best possible,” Kelly said.
This season has been anything but routine for the Irish.
The staunchly independent Notre Dame joined the ACC this season because of the struggles finding teams to play given Power Five conferences like the Southeastern Conference, Big Ten Conference and Pac-12 Conference going to all-league schedules.
The ACC and Big 12 conferences, which got started earlier than their other three counterparts, allowed just one non-conference game.
Part of Swinney’s plans for the two-weeks leading up to rematch is not over-analyzing Notre Dame.
“We are who we are. They are who they are,” he said. “The things that got you there, you’re not going to all of sudden get away from those things. You’ve got to be good at what you do.”
Being full strength will help the Tigers on both sides of the ball.
Lawrence and several injured defensive starters — tackle Tyler Davis and linebackers James Skalski and Mike Jones Jr. — are set to play in the title game after missing the first game with Notre Dame.
Lawrence’s backup, DJ Uiagalelei, was certainly capable enough, throwing for 439 yards to break the school’s freshman record held by national champion quarterback Deshaun Watson.
But Kelly said having Lawrence back behind center gives Clemson the comfort level of having their experienced offensive leader in control.
The Irish have heard those say that Notre Dame’s victory last month came in part because Clemson was undermanned.
“Our guys listen to that, so we’re gonna have that challenge in front of us that we’ll have to go and play very well against a team that will have all their best players,” Kelly said.
Clemson receiver Cornell Powell, who had six catches for 161 yards and a touchdown against the Irish last time out, said Notre Dame’s defense was disciplined, tough and fast.
He expects the same when they play again.
“It was just a great game. Competition was at an all time high,” Powell said. “I’m really looking forward to Saturday, or next Saturday.”